End of life doulas, commonly known as death doulas or death midwives, guide patients and their families through the dying process. This person is not medically trained but receives a certification to support patients and families during the transition into death. They take a holistic approach that covers the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of a patient and their family, and ensures everyone feels supported through this challenging process.
As a caregiver, you may feel the transition to the end of life is drawing near. But that doesn’t mean you have to handle it alone. Death doulas mirror the role of birth doulas or midwives, but instead at the end of life. They help you prepare and walk you through every step of the process. Doulas provide a calm, reassuring presence and offer a caring approach to the final phase of life.
This unique approach to death may be just what you need to ensure your loved one’s passing feels as supported as possible. Let’s take a look at the role of an end of life doula, and how caregivers can work with them to help their loved one transition, and their family find peace through the process.
What is a Death Doula?
A death doula is a relatively new role. They cover all non-medical end-of-life care and support a patient and their loved ones’ need. Death doulas often notice that emotions prevent patients and their families from communicating their wishes. Doulas can facilitate this communication to ensure everyone is at peace throughout the process.
End of life doulas often work with care teams, grief counselors, funeral directors, hospice workers, and other professionals. With a doula on board, you’ll ensure the patient communicates their wishes and has their needs met every step of the way.
What Does a Death Doula Do?
End of life doulas do much more than just sit by a patient’s bedside in their final moments. They help with all sorts of other tasks involved with the end of life. Here are a few of the ways a death doula can help a patient and their loved ones.
- Doulas can help with all of the paperwork involved with a death.
- They can help with household chores to give patients and their families more time together.
- Doulas offer emotional and spiritual support, walking a patient and their loved ones through the dying process.
- They offer education and research services to keep loved ones informed and ensure everyone receives the treatment they deserve.
- End of life doulas coordinate with other professionals, so you don’t have to handle arrangements on your own.
- They facilitate communication and ask the right questions. This helps the patient and their loved ones reach common ground, so the end of life aligns as well as possible with their wishes.
- They are present before and during the patient’s passing to provide a sense of comfort, companionship, and support.
- They support the family after their loved one has passed to ensure arrangements are in order, and everyone gets the space they deserve to grieve.
Here is a list of tasks death doulas do not do:
- They do not administer medication or perform any other medical duties for the patient.
- Doulas do not give medical advice.
- They do not allow their own judgments or values to influence their role.
- They do not breach confidentiality or ethical standards.
- End of life doulas do not take over the roles of other care providers.
How Can Caregivers Work with these Professionals?
If you hire an end of life doula, you’ll have a companion to walk you through all of the processes associated with death. As a caregiver, you may be accustomed to providing for your loved one on your own. So, working with a death doula can offer much-needed relief.
Since the profession is unregulated, many doulas work independently. That means the way you work together will vary depending on who you choose. Doulas may work for a flat fee, daily, or even hourly rate, so you’re sure to find the type of care that works with your needs and your budget.
Should I Hire a Death Doula?
Consider hiring a death doula if you’d like support through any of the processes associated with death. Many of us prefer not to think about dying, but doulas can help us get more comfortable with the idea, so the process is more straightforward when the time comes. Reach out to doulas in your area to learn about their previous experience, training, and background to see if they make a good fit for your circumstances.
Death Doula Training
There are currently no regulations for becoming a death doula. Still, the International End of Life Doula Association, or INELDA, and similar associations offer training for those interested in the role. These courses involve lectures from trainers, self-guided exploration, and more to prepare doulas for their new role. Since end of life doulas are independent workers, they can decide how they want to prepare for the position.
For those interested in becoming a death doula, it’s a great idea to first take on a hospice volunteer role. Finding positions that provide exposure to death helps interested individuals gain insight into the different processes involved. Many death doulas have experienced working with dying patients in some capacity before beginning this role.
Certification for end of life doulas
There is currently no official certifying entity for death doulas. That being said, associations like INELDA and Lifespan Doula Association (LDA) offer death doula training and certificates. Death doulas may come to the profession from various other jobs such as health care, hospice, or even caregiving. Each doula offers a unique set of credentials and experiences to the dying process.
Ethics for Death Doulas
The National End-of-Life Doula Alliance, or NEDA, has created a code of ethics to support doulas and their clients. The code covers confidentiality, legal compliance, fees, duties, and more. While NEDA is not an official governing body, this document can help facilitate communication and standards between doulas and their clients. Consider using this code of ethics as a guide when meeting with a doula to discuss their services.
What to know about this process
You can use databases like NEDA’s to find a doula in your state. Here are a few questions to consider before hiring an end of life doula for your loved one.
- Have you researched the role of a death doula and what they may offer your situation? Take some time to understand the position to learn whether this service is right for your loved one.
- Are there any end of life doulas in your area? If not, you can look into virtual death doula services. Through this method, you can receive support through video and telephone sessions.
- What are the doula’s credentials? Have they received training or certification to offer these services?
- How much experience does your death doula have in the field? Did they work in a death-related field before becoming a death doula?
- Have you interviewed a few different doulas to get an idea of their approach to the role? Everyone offers a unique set of skills, so it’s a good idea to consider a few individuals before making your decision.
- How does your doula plan to approach the role? Have they given you a list of steps or actions they plan to take after you hire them?
How to Prepare
Now that you’ve hired an end of life doula take a moment to ask yourself what you hope to get out of the process. Do you want to understand how to handle paperwork? Are you hoping to transform a loved one’s death into a beautiful and comforting experience? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself before you meet up with your death doula:
- Does your loved one have any healing left to do before death? Are there any difficult topics that may be best approached by a doula?
- Are your loved one’s affairs in order? Do you have any questions about the paperwork or processes involved with death?
- Would you like to create any keepsakes while your loved one is alive? You could ask your doula about art projects, letter writing, or other meaningful activities you could incorporate into the process.
- Does your loved one wish to integrate spirituality into their dying process? A doula can come up with ways to explore spirituality if your loved one would like this.
A New Approach to End-of-Life Care
Death doulas provide excellent support for patients and families during the death process. They help fill the gaps in your support system and add ease to your loved one’s passing. While you may be working with medical professionals, hospice workers, or funeral directors, doulas offer something that feels more like friendship. They bring a wealth of knowledge, ask the right questions, and help everyone communicate well so the death can feel as intentional and peaceful as possible.